San Francisco’s graffiti abatement services cost city departments and property owners an estimated $20 million a year, but a new proposal may start forcing taggers to pay up.
Property owners currently must remove graffiti within 30 days or face penalties. Likewise, city departments are expected to remove graffiti from city property promptly. Abating the graffiti vandalism has been a constant headache, some say, as nothing seems to stop the taggers.
But Supervisor London Breed may have the answer. She announced last week that she is working on legislation to allow the Department of Public Works and Recreation and Park Department to pursue civil suits against repeat graffiti offenders.
The legislation, she said, would be modeled after “a successful program in San Diego” and would take the enforcement out of the hands of criminal prosecutors who generally focus on more serious offenses. Under Breed’s proposal, the city attorney would be authorized to file civil lawsuits against repeat offenders and recover costs for the damage.
“We know that low-level crimes are rarely being prosecuted in this city,” Breed said. In fiscal year 2012-13, there were 201 graffiti crime arrests.
According to the most recent data from the Graffiti Advisory Board, in August there were 779 reports of graffiti on public property in The City, compared with 1,016 reports in August 2012. Reports of graffiti on private property were also down. There were 474 incidents in August and 519 in August 2012. But the calls alone do not reflect the full extent of the incidents. In August, Public Works issued 1,100 notices to private property owners about graffiti violations, which jumped from 832 the previous year.
The most popular neighborhoods for taggers have been Districts 3, 6 and 9, which include North Beach, the Tenderloin, South of Market and the Mission. There were 297 notices of violations issued for District 9 property owners alone in August.
Breed announced the legislation during last week’s 6-5 vote on closing parks between midnight and 5 a.m. She suggested proposals such as hers would better address the graffiti challenge in public parks “without unduly impacting those who have nothing to do with those offenses.” The board will take a second and final vote on the park closure legislation, introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, next week.